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ENGLAND’STest players will face a brutal physical and mental examination when they play seven Tests on the Sub-continent in the next ten weeks.
The first two of those, starting in Chittagong on Thursday, might be a relatively gentle introduction against Bangladesh but then the serious business, five matches in close succession against a rampant India, begins.
It promises to be the toughest assignment any England team have faced in recent history, so over the coming months it is imperative that the team’s big players stand up to be counted.
Alastair Cook, England’s Test captain, is a proven performer in Asia, showcased by the three centuries that inspired his side to a memorable Test series win on their last visit to India in 2012.
Joe Root made his Test debut in the last match of that series in Nagpur four years ago and alongside Ben Stokes, the all-rounder who made his own debut in the heat of an away Ashes whitewash in 2013-14, England have two men who they will be relying on to back up their captain.
A Test squad that will initially be missing the injured James Anderson in Bangladesh, and perhaps the start of the series in India, is light on experience.
It means Root and Stokes become even more crucial members of an England team that in India at least could be forgiven for thinking they are on a hiding to nothing.
An illustration of England’s vulnerability is the fact a 19-year-old opener in Haseeb Hameed is expected to make his debut in Chittagong next week.
The Lancashire batsman, who was scheduled to pull on an England shirt for the first time today in the opening two-day tour match against a Bangladesh Cricket Board XI, is a bright talent. He has been called up for this tour because nobody else since 2012 – including the latest failure in Alex Hales – has managed to make a success of becoming Cook’s opening partner.
And while Hameed will be confident he can succeed where his eight predecessors have failed, he has been urged by Paul Farbrace, England’s assistant coach, to follow the example of Root in dealing with the added pressure of international cricket.
“It’s going to be really physically and mentally tough with seven Tests on the bounce,” said Farbrace.
“We haven’t got that many experienced players in our Test side so it does mean the likes of Cook, Stokes and Root take on a big role now. Look at someone like Haseeb at 19 who has come out here all wide-eyed and looking at what’s ahead of him.
“We’re all excited to see what he can do. But you never know until people play international cricket whether they’ve got the right mental make up to cope with it.
“The majority of the time your technique is not in doubt so it’s can you score runs when it’s hot, sticky conditions and you don’t face many balls? Have you got the concentration to cope with that and the mental make up to cope with everything else?
“There are more cameras, more people watching, more pressure. It’s a goldfish bowl and the people who cope with it and learn quickly are the people who make a success of international cricket.
“Joe Root is a great example for the young fella to watch and see how he’s developed from someone who not that long ago was batting at six for Yorkshire and is now at three for England and one of the best players in the world.
“He’s got a great role model to copy, watch and learn from but the important thing is he needs to play his way.”
However, Root’s experience and stature means it’s not just the younger players who can learn from him.
Gary Ballance, who at the age of 26 and with 19 Tests under his belt, is a relative veteran in this squad but the Zimbabwe-born batsman spoke in glowing terms of the help his Yorkshire team-mate gave him during his opening practice session of the tour yesterday.
“I had a session with Rooty, watching him play spin as he’s one of the best around,” said Ballance.
“Just watching the way he plays and talking to him about it is good. He’s got his way of playing and it’s been successful.”
As for Stokes, his all-round abilities are not just confined to batting and bowling.
“He really does give everything to the England team,” says Farbrace. “He is the heartbeat of our team.What he has shown in these last few games is he is maturing all the time into a very high quality international cricketer and he will only get better.
“He’s still a young man and his talent has no ceiling. He’s worth his weight in gold in our team.”
If Stokes and Root can back up their captain over the coming weeks then they may be worth even more than that.
Ashes heroes: Now Ben Stokes, left, and Joe Root have to be England’s role models
Still learning: Haseeb Hameed nets before making his England debut